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Hannah Riel-Maerdim

Written by: Astrid Delphine | Author Rated: PG

astrid_delphine@hotmail.com

“Oh! Have you heard? The U.N. ambassador of Australia is ‘one of them’!” hissed the young woman to a customer, who was also a young woman. She took her bag, gave me a grimace of a smile and followed her friend out. As soon as they were out of sight, I rolled my eyes to the ceiling.

It was nothing new to me. This store, although sells jewellery, is located next to a media store (daily news recorded on to memory chips; can be plugged into a TV set, iPhone and watched at in time) I still overhear a fair few conversations like that. I’ve especially noticed an increase in the number of ‘one of them’ in the past 2 years.

The ‘one of them’ being referred, are people born with mutations. My own first exposure involving ‘one of them’ was when I was in the eighth grade; this boy in my class caused his desk to spontaneously erupt in flame. Needless to say he was escorted out of class and never returned. It feels like every other day I hear about someone new. My parents are worried about me. I’ve always been different than the other children: not the social type, kept to myself; I read books a lot, the topics among them were ones about oceans, marine life and novels that had mermaid-themes to them. My parents had put me into singing lessons as I developed perfect pitch as a five-year old. I did quite well but quit when something else better came along. They tried to do research but very few people are coming forward. Go figure with all of this negativity surrounding the topic. The ages for the ‘first reactions’ are all over the grid so it can still happen.

“Ariel quit the dreaming girl! I need you to go meet the delivery workers again. Danu did not show up for the third day in a row,” said the owner, Pricilla, and whrr of her wheelchair got louder. I hated hearing that because usually it meant heavy labour or long distance walking. I bit my tongue as I removed myself from the bullet proof, wheelchair accessible cashiers box, took a swipe card from Pricilla and started for the 10 minute walk to the delivery bay at the rear of the mall. I silently cursed Pricilla for not signing her employees the use of the service teleporters. She says that she is encouraging exercise during work hours. “Exercise, my ass,” I thought disgustedly and I picked my way through a crowd.

Yeah OK, of my full name is Hannah Riel –Maerdim. ‘Ariel” came out as a nickname because of my shockingly red hair and my name. I am adopted. Maerdim is the name I had when I was in the orphanage facility. According to my file, that was my name until I was adopted at one year old – having spent only six months at the facility. 3 ½ years later, my parents had a daughter, named Melody. My nickname came along a few years later after that. Back then, I hated it but now I do not mind so much.

As I stood, waiting for my hover cart to return with the crate, I gently fingered the bracelet that hung my left wrist.

It’s a bronze coloured chain bracelet; it has these bead charms (some metal and hollow, some balsam wood, one is a pearl, one is a purple plastic bead, and one is metal but has a tiny shard of a white crystal) and has this multitude of coin charms (two different sizes: larger coins are in dated 1808 while the smaller ones are dated between 1961 and 1986; there are silhouettes on the head side – the larger coins have a sort-of dolphin on the reverse while the smaller coins have a wreath of kelp with a coat of arms. The only problem is that the coins don’t have ANY recognizable written language – they read: Atlantica. My adoption file said that this bracelet was one of my few possessions and that I’d throw a temper tantrum if anyone tried to take it away from me. I can’t even recall a day that I’ve gone without wearing it, since being adopted.

By the time I got back with the shipment, my shift was done. I quickly logged in the crate’s arrival and left it, cart & all, on the machine platform to file the packages overnight. After signing myself out & grabbing my duffle bag from my locker, I raced out of the mall to catch the Express Transit to the sports complex. I only just made it as being the last one to board. As the train lurched up to 450 km/hr, I grabbed a sideways seat, and started my routine of taking off my jewellery, save for my coin bracelet, and placed the rest of them into a little purse from the duffle.

“Three days a week; every week and every month I ride this thing...” I thought as the train passed through a station’s tunnel without stopping. As I looked around, I realized that the train was unusually empty for this being 3:15pm on a Tuesday. There was an older gentleman, watching a media file with a set of wireless headphones; a young woman loaded down with three grocery bundles & a small 3 year old girl; three punk teens (2 boys & a girl) talking in slang that would have made my Mom faint. Nothing seemed out of place to me, until I noticed the much younger woman dressed in a long sleeve sweater, jeans and a dark teal robe (decorated with gold ribbon & gold sea shell shapes) over top. I thought that odd as it was a very balmy 20oC for the 5th of December. [The all-time record is 48oC, set in 2012.]

I kept an eye on her as the first stop came up. The young woman with the girl got off, as did the gentleman. The punks moved to the back of the train’s car as new people crowded on. The strange girl did not budge. By the second stop, she still had not moved from her place. On the third, she gave up her seat to an elderly man. I could now see that she was also wearing huge hiking boots, gloves and she was very insecure as she drew her cloak’s hood closer to her face.

On the fourth stop, I gave up my seat to a pregnant woman with a 6-year-old little boy. The cloaked girl watched as I moved to be closer to the doors; the fifth stop was mine.

At my stop, when I got off, I saw that the cloaked girl was following me. Somehow, I managed to lose her in the crowds and walked across the parking lot, to the sports complex. Once I used my swipe card to enter the VIP entrance & made it to the woman’s locker room, I used the yellow key on my card’s land-yard to get into my locker.

After getting dressed in my swimsuit, I came out into the brightly lit pool area: Olympic-sized pool (shallow, medium, deep, & “ocean” double deep), 6 levels of diving boards & three differently sized water slides; splash pad for toddlers & shallow/medium hot pool.

Without any hesitation, I walked all of the way to the Ocean Deep section and dove right in.

I’ve lived here, in this city since my adoption. By the time I was 2 yrs, I could swim the shallow all on my own; the medium by 5 yrs; deep by 8 yrs; and was certified at 12 to be allowed the use of “Ocean’s Deep”, as they refer to it as. The deep end is 13 ft; the Ocean Deep is 30 ft and I broke both freestyle diving records when I was 14. Between the ages of 5-12 and 15-21, I won so many swim meets that I began to suspect that maybe I was a mutant! I took a few years break after becoming the youngest ever National Champion at 12 years old.

Now being 22, I am old enough to be trained & certified as a lifeguard and swimming instructor for ages 12 & up. My swim coach, Chris, has been bugging me to join up with the city’s Swimming Championship. “Why waste your time teaching hopeless kids to swim when you could be working towards something better? Top 10 qualify for the 2032 Olympics in Cairo, Egypt.” I kept reminding him that at 22, I’d be considered an old-timer before even getting on the block. “Besides,” I said, “the 2032 Olympics are a year from now. That is not nearly enough time for me to get back into my swimming –shape. We are still trying to recover from last year’s dismal winter display in Russia. Hockey lost one to thirty, I mean, come on!”

All of this ran through my head as I continued to swim lengths, free-dive and take turns on the 5 ft diving board. After about 2 hrs, I took a breather/rest on one of the floating lounge chairs, that my VIP status offers me. Regardless of my Rx swim goggles, my eyes still stung from the chlorine water. Looking to the loft observation (affectionately dubbed “the peanut gallery”); I could see the cloaked girl watching me. When I cleaned my goggles & looked again, she was gone.

~~~

I am lying on a sandy warm beach. I can hear the waves crashing on the rocks & the sea gulls screaming at each other. I can feel the sun’s warmth on my face and almost my whole body. As I sit up, I am aware that I am dressed – not in my favourite swimsuit, as originally thought – but rather, in a bra made from two sea shells. Everything from my waist down is covered by the dark teal cloak worn by that strange girl. I go to remove this but I am blinded by a golden-white light.

~~~

“Geez, what a strange dream, Hannah,” said Danu at work the next day. I had told her everything from when I had left for work to the dream I had in the night. I had not been able to shake any of the feelings until I finally told someone.

Danu is a great girl to work with. She’s blonde, Caucasian but always a light tan and works part time while she puts herself through a crimes & justice program at one of the two cop colleges in the city. Danu hopes to work for/in the coast guard some day. [Found out that Danu missed work because she & her whole household came down with a cold. Danu, being strong, recovered quickly.] Danu loves the colour blue so much that it toes the boarder of being an unhealthy obsession. This day, for example, Danu was wearing a pair of dark blue jeans, navy socks inside of grey & light blue running shoes, navy blue turtle neck, light blue t-shirt over top, royal blue ribbon as a headband and silver ring with sapphire stone set on the middle finger of the left hand.

Neither of us speaks while Danu helps with a customer and Pricilla whrrs by us. When the girls left & the wheelchair sounds faded away, Danu & I continued our talk. “What will you do about the cloaked girl?” Danu asked as she offered me a stick of gum. Accepting the gum & blowing a couple of bubbles in thought, I replied, “I’ll just ignore her. Pay no attention; maybe she’ll get bored and leave me alone. When I told Chris about her, he said that the major-big cities always attract the weird crowd & my Dad says the same.” “For your sake, I hope you’re right, Hannah,” said Danu as she & I quickly spit out our gum in the waste bin, before Pricilla caught us.

Chris’s voice was clearly heard over my splashing: “Good work; great job, Ariel. You see? I told you, you could do it. Now do I have you convinced to sign up?” I had just finished a time trial for the 500m freestyle and my time, according to Chris’s watch, showed that I had more than easily made the time trial’s requirement.

I was still not too sure about the whole thing. Recently, I had begun to dislike the spotlight. It was ok back when I was a little kid, beating those twice my age but now that I’ve had my fame, I prefer to let others have it.

As I pulled myself out of the pool, I made a decision. “I am still not so sure, Chris. I’ll need some time to think about it,” I said. “Ah well; it’s your choice, Ariel. I have a new student coming in soon so I’ll leave you to the rest of your swim.” Chris scribbled some things on his digital clipboard as he wandered off towards the lifeguard station.

Meanwhile, I hurried over to a series of bins located along the wall, under the diving platforms. One bin contained pool noodles, another had beach balls, another had the flat float boards, the fourth had extra lengths of buoy lines and the fifth was split between regular scuba diving flippers & the larger monofins. From the fifth bin, I took one of the black monofins – and while sitting on the edge of the Ocean Deep – I strapped it on. Without any hesitation I let it drop into the water and with a deep breath, I let myself sink as far as I could go.

The Ocean Deep pool has these metal rings welded to stainless steel fittings set into the pool, in 5 ft intervals the whole depth of the pool. Mainly they are used for securing the free-diving lines and for scuba divers but I will often use them as anchors. I will sink down to the 5 or 10 ft places, hang on to the ring and keep from being buoyant; this way, I can stay down for as long as I want. With all of my training and natural talent, I am able to stay underwater for 3 whole minutes – providing that I am not moving too much.

As I hung there at the 10 ft ring – my feet inside the monofin & flat against the pool’s wall behind me – I had a great feeling of calm & peace as I looked out into the rest of the Ocean Deep. Above me, three other youngsters were swimming laps back & forth. Below me, lay another 20 ft of dark – empty – waters practically begging me to enter. I knew that I wanted to go deeper but I’d have to surface first.

It all happened so quickly; if I did surface first, I had no memory of it. All I knew was that one minute I was hanging onto the 10 ft ring and the next; I was swimming down to the 20 ft mark. Even with a surfacing first, my lungs would have normally been screaming for air but today, nothing. Instead, I found more energy the deeper I went down. By about the 25th ft, the pool started giving off its own light from the wall mounted ones. Those lights of the pool were yellow but I kept seeing a smaller white light until I looked to my coin bracelet and realized that the tiny shard of crystal was doing the glowing!

I opened my mouth in surprise; a rush of bubbles escaped but I neither swallowed nor inhaled any water. Water flooded my mouth but nothing went down. As I touched my neck, I felt these tiny little flaps of skin poking out. The idea in my head rang out clearly: I have gills!

“You’ve been awfully quiet, sweetheart. Is everything ok?” asked my Mom that night at dinner. The replicator made for me a platter of fish sticks and French fries but I could hardly eat. I could not stop thinking about what had happened at the pool.

Surely, I had managed to keep myself calm as I surfaced. As soon as I reached the air, the gills were gone & I started spitting up the nasty chlorine pool water from my mouth and nose. Chris’s new student was a no-show and he had been pacing near the Ocean Deep when I came up & he helped me out.

Somehow I had managed to get home but still could not shake the feelings. Being underwater like that was both exciting & scary at the same time. I did not know how to explain it other than “feeling right”; like I was meant to be there.

I made some lame apology about not feeling too well, from swallowing too much water and excused myself from the table. As soon as I got to my room, I pulled out an old style of notebook: pulp-paper pages and an ink-well pen.

Once I started writing, I could not stop.

~~~

As soon as I open my eyes I am aware that I am back at the same beach. I am still wearing the sea shell top but now I am also wearing a full-length purple skirt (wears low, under my belly button & on the hips). I am also wearing off-white sandals and my coin bracelet.

Some distance away, I can make out another person on the beach. I am aware that it is a young teen girl; we begin to walk towards each other. She is wearing the dark teal robe and the closer we get, the more nervous I become.

When we were finally within inches of each other, I can tell that she is wearing the same outfit as me except that her outfit is lighter teal in colour. I notice that she also has a coin bracelet (her plastic bead is also teal) and she smiles as she pulls off her hood. Her hair is waist-length golden brown tresses cascade in natural curls I’ve always envied. Her eyes are a sparkling honey-brown and not a single zit afflicts her face. She wears a single starfish on each side of her hair, holding the hair off her ears & each ear has 3 different kinds of sea shell earrings. A plain pearl choker necklace hung about her neck and matching bracelet on her right wrist.

She smiles at me gently again as she studied me. Finally I spoke, “Do you know what is happening to me?” She kept smiling gently at me and suddenly, a splash from the water stole my attention. A dolphin had started making a series of leaps & jumps.

The next thing I knew, the girl had placed a cloak of my own on my shoulders and like her’s, mine also matched my colour – a cloak of rich dark purple and the same gold decorations. As I am distracted by the cloak, the girl drops hers in the sand where she stands and bolts for the water. I want to go with her but I fear that the gills will return. I watch as she dives in but before I can see her feet disappear, I am blinded again by the golden white light.

“Hannah, you’re gonna be late for work if you don’t get up now.” Mom’s voice burst me awake & for a moment, I had no clue as to where I was!

As I untangled myself from my bed sheets, I saw that something was different: I was still wearing my dream’s purple cloak!

~

This time, I did not tell Danu anything about my swim or the dream; only that I hadn’t seen the cloaked girl in days. “Are you going swimming today?” Danu asked. I shook my head, no. “Melody has made it into the final 20 of the city’s choir championship. If she makes top ten today, she wins a spot in next year’s Olympics. Mom is expecting me to go,” I answered.

[Choir/singing was added to the winter & summer Olympics as another indoor event in the 2014 & 16 ones, replacing the dismal attempt of chess in the 2012.]

Danu gave a tiny whistle of sympathy as she handed a receipt to a customer. I shook my head again. “Melody suffered through my spotlight; now it’s time that the tables were turned.” Danu looked at me in surprise but said nothing more. When Pricilla came out with the swipe card & the hover cart, Danu did not hesitate to volunteer.

Hours later, I found myself in a huge theatre (seats 100,000 or so) – on my feet – applauding, cheering & hugging my Mom: Melody had just been awarded 9th place over all; she won a place in the Olympics! Mom always said: for every ounce of talent Hannah has for swimming, Melody has the same for singing.

As soon as the award ceremony ended, I hurried around to the back stage area; to meet up with Melody and bring her back to Mom (Amy) & Dad (Trevor).

Melody (“Mel” for short) looks and acts very mature for her only being 19. That day, for example, her bottle-strawberry-blonde shoulder-length hair was set back with a headband that matched her golden-yellow dress and had borrowed my black heel shoes. I, on the other hand, wore a pair of dark blue jeans – black running shoes with purple laces – a white tank top under a thin lacy purple tunic shirt and my hair was pulled back in a ponytail with a purple & gold scrunchie. As soon as Mel saw me, her face lit up and I hurried over to hug her. “Oh Mel, I am so proud of you! I knew that you’d place. Come on; Mom & Dad are waiting.” Melody could only laugh as I took her hand and we started for the main door, Mel slightly ahead of me.

Suddenly, my hand slipped from Melody’s and we both nearly collided with the stairs. Instead, Mel grabbed the hand rail and caught me by my belt loop. No one seemed to have noticed anything amiss as Mel & I caught our breaths. We silently snuck away from the stairs – around a corner & down a different set of stairs (completely void of any other people) – and we both dropped down onto an old wooden bench.

Neither of us spoke for what felt like the longest time. Finally Melody sighed. “What was all of that about, Hannah? Why did that happen? What is up with you lately?” she asked. The look on her face told me that she was sincerely worried about me. I must have taken too long to answer because Melody spoke again. “Ariel,” she began, using my nickname (& making me smile a little). “We are sisters; I don’t care what those documents say. You were there for my birth, first word – red, my first steps – right into the backyard pool & you saving me; you were there when I had mono & nearly lost my voice; you’ve been at every one of my concerts & recitals. I have been there for you since day one; every competition, every championship – even if out of town, and every interview I sat next to you. We have supported each other in everything, sister. Why should this be any different?” she finished.

I knew that Mel was right but I made her pinkie-promise-swear that she would not tell another soul. “Not Mom or Dad or even the cat,” I said very silly way as Mel giggled. She looked straight at me, nodded & gave our pinkie-promise. Once that I was satisfied with Melody’s promise, I told her everything: the strange cloaked girl, the first dream, the event in the pool, and of the second dream – including the part about waking up still wearing my purple cloak. I ended with: “... and I’m totally afraid that this could mean that I am a mutant. I had gills yesterday; why not scaly hands too?”

Melody took my hands in hers, and turning them over, finding no scales anywhere on them. I can tell that Mel is sceptical but we both know that it could still be possible. After all, very little is known of where I came from. Instead of sulking over the possibility, Mel & I returned to Mom & Dad; Mel making an excuse. “Sister stuff,” was all that she said. They [Mom & Dad] left it alone.

~~~

Later that day at home, Melody came bounding into my room, looking all very excited. She held, in one hand, the file that contained my birth & adoption certificates and instructed me to lay out my cloak on the bed, front-side down. Then she told me to sit in my desk chair; she moved a few of my swimming ribbons from my wall-mounted digital write board.

Reading from the file, she wrote my pre-adoption name: MAERDIM

Then, letter by letter, she rearranged the name until it made a new word: MAERDIM = MERMAID

I just sat there with my mouth hung open, torn between denial, shock & total relief. Before I could say anything, Mel started pointing out the evidence:

-My limited history prior to adoption -my swim records -my coin bracelet -the experience in the pool with the gills -the strange dreams

Finally when Mel stopped talking I piped in. “I only see one flaw in your logic, Mel: where is my tail?!” With that, I grabbed my cloak & duffle bag from the floor. I walked down the stairs, hollering that I was going to the sports complex. Mom hollered back to be home in time for dinner; it was going to be Melody’s celebration.

The whole trip to the sports complex, I wore that purple cloak absent-mindedly and played with the charms on my bracelet. It was not until my stop came that I realized that the cloaked girl had been on the train, but only because she was now dressed differently: still the same dark teal cloak but now she wore a white tank top, knee-length denim skirt & white sandals – all not obscured by the cloak, which was worn quite loosely on her shoulders.

Then I realized that she is identical to the girl in my dream! When she notices me looking at her, her face lights up & she hurries over to me.

“Oh, I am so happy for you! You must have figured out your name; I am so glad. What name did your human parents give you, Maerdim?” she asked all hurriedly. I just stood there, shocked that she knew of my Maerdim-name. But before I could ask, she must have seen the shock on my face. As the train car’s door opened, she linked her arm in mine and we made our way out.

The girl introduced herself as 16-yr-old Juliana Jones-Maerdim.

She saw the confused look of my face and began to explain, quietly as we walked across the parking lot. “You see the merfolk have existed for as long as the Egypt pyramids have been standing. But since the oceans are not safe to raise mer-children in, they bring us to orphanages & hospitals, to be adopted and raised as humans until they are teenagers. The final transformation is to happen at the height of the full moon of your birth. Mine has already occurred; that’s why you saw me all gaudy up in layers.”

I stopped in my tracts and turned to Juliana. “My name is Hannah Riel-Maerdim and I will have my 23rd birthday on January 5th at 11:55pm, on a full moon.” Neither of us said anymore as I used my VIP pass for the both of us.

~~~

I wore a simple a simple two-piece swimsuit of purple while Juliana wore a smaller teal bikini, fashionably decorated with longer strings at the hips and sparkly silver embroidery. With my black Rx goggles in place and without hesitation, I hurried to the Ocean Deep and dove right in. I did not have to wait very long; my gills appeared almost immediately. Like last time, I did not have to do anything; it just all happened naturally.

This time, however, something new started happening: my eyes got cloudy & so blurry that I had to shut them. At first I thought that I had somehow gotten water in my goggles but when I heard a watery laugh, I forced myself to look.

Juliana had followed me into the Ocean Deep; she too, had gills on her neck and she was laughing. Very carefully, she removed my goggles; in doing so, my vision cleared completely. *What...?* I asked, in surprise of both being able to speak underwater and of my vision. Juliana laughed again, gently speaking in her watery way, *This is completely normal, Hannah. Now that you’ve learned your name & your gills have developed, it will all happen quickly now. See?* Juliana took my wrist to let me see my bracelet’s crystal shard glow again. *I... I still don’t understand, Juliana. What happens now? How long do I have before ... you know ... I go full fish?* Juliana must have seen how worried I was. In truth, I was terrified that it might happen right then and there.

She swam a bit around me in thought. She looked me over before confirming my worst fears: *It appears as if yours has been accelerated, Hannah. I would not be surprised if you were to sprout one today but even if you were, it would not be permanent until your full moon birthday next month. That is the only that that could cause your bracelet to glow like that. And look here,* she said, lifting my right wrist and using the glow of her own bracelet to let me see the newly developing lighter purple scales there.

The light from both bracelets allowed me to see that I also had small bouts of light purple scales on my legs but that Juliana had far paler teal scales on her wrists, palms and legs. We waited a few moments but when nothing happened, we both breathed sighs of relief.

Now that my nerves were gone, my mind went numb. Not a falling-asleep but a calming, peaceful wiping. Left behind was a delighted, playful side I hadn’t felt in years. *Wait here,* I said quickly & bolted for the surface.

Being so late, there were very few people hanging around. I snuck two of the black monofins from the fifth bin. Strapped one on quickly, rejoining Juliana with the other and helped her into it. Her face lit up in excitement as she watched me swim circles around her.

I had used the monofins many times before but it felt different today. The feeling of my feet sitting in that fin, it almost felt as though I & the fin were working together as one.

Eventually Juliana & I surfaced, hung the wet monofins on the peg wall and slowly made our way towards the change rooms. All of our scales had vanished as soon as we reached the air. Finally I asked the question that had been on my mind: “Does this mean that we are family? Are we sisters or cousins, maybe?” Juliana froze in place for a moment & then looked at me. “I guess that this makes us at least cousins, if not more, Hannah.” I shook my head. “Call me Ariel, if you wish. Nearly everyone does,” I said with a laugh. “Join me tonight for dinner, Cousin Juliana? We now have two things to celebrate: my sister, Melody, winning a place in the Olympics and me finding my birth family!”

Juliana gave me a look that was “unsure”. I merely & vaguely said that I am from an ocean-shore port and that I was unexpected so was put up for adoption. “I’ll just introduce you as my father’s brother's daughter who, is able to help me reconnect with home.”

Juliana’s face lit up again. “Yeah; we met because I am Chris’s new student!”

We left the sports complex, both wearing our cloaks, hand in hand; laughing along as Juliana & I exchanged life stories.

The weeks prior to Christmas were insane. Juliana, being on her vacation, wanted to spend a lot of time with me but (the wheelchair witch) Pricilla had me working longer hours; I was always just too tired to swim. At each end of my shifts, Juliana would show up; we’d ride the train together – yes, wearing our cloaks – and I’d watch from the sidelines as Juliana trained: she was going to compete in the Olympic trials on Dec 20th.

Also, with Juliana’s help, I had begun to better understand things like I’d be keeping my Hannah-name and with a little luck, a human friend of the mermaids (“Aunt Maggie”) could get word to my real parents. “If they wish, they can write a letter to you and Maggie will mail it for them,” Juliana told me after we had sent Maggie my info & a copy of my adoption photo.

On Dec 20th, Juliana placed in top 40 in the first round and top 20 in the second round, both qualifying places to move on, but because of a scheduling issue, the finals could not happen until at least the 3rd of January.

On Dec 23rd, Juliana just happened to be at my house when a letter came for me, from my parents!

Furiously I tore open the envelope & started reading out loud – not caring if my parents heard because it was about time they learned the truth:

Dear Hannah,

Our family is thrilled to finally hear from you. I, your mother (Katelyn), and father (Kale) have both parents still living; 20-yr-old brother (Edward), 17-yr-old sister (Nancy), and two more siblings too young to return yet (13-yr-old brother & 9-yr-old sister). I have four brothers & five sisters; Kale has three sisters & five brothers, one being the father of your friend, Juliana Jones.

We all look forward to seeing you, Hannah. Maggie has already agreed to mediate your first homecoming on January 5th. We can’t wait to have you home in the ocean city of Atlantica. You’ve always had a few pieces of home; the coins on your bracelet.

Take care, daughter. See you in the sea. Lots of Love,

Katelyn

~~~

I stood there stock-still as I read & reread the letter from my real family, in my mother’s handwriting. I had always wished, hoped & prayed that someday I’d be able to find my birth family and could be reunited with them.

Then I looked to Melody & her parents and realized what I’d have to leave behind: Mel, Amy, Trevor, Danu, Pricilla (regardless how much I despised her), Chris, my old high school friends and my swimming students.

Juliana must have seen how upset I was over leaving; she sat down on the couch next to me. “This would not be forever, Hannah. This first homecoming is vital to regain your true self. But at the height of each and every full moon, we have the ability to switch back & forth. So long as you are in human form, you can become full mermaid for brief time but it will not permanent until full moon. If you are in mermaid form, you will remain that way – no matter what happens – until full moon again. The only reason that this has not happened sooner must be because there just hasn’t been a full moon on your birthday yet. Maggie told me of one person, theirs did not come until they were 46 while another got theirs on the 10th birthday. She says that although late, yours is still around the average. The point is that you could always come back for months-at-a-time visits.”

I held my family’s letter in my lap as I looked to my adopted parents. Dad was all stiff & serious; Mom appeared to have been crying; Melody was sad & kept staring at the floor.

After an awkward silence filled the room, I took a deep breath. “Well, one thing is for sure. Neither of us is going anywhere, at least until after January 3rd.” Every single head turned to look at me. “Why would that be?” asked Melody. I picked out a green gube-gube candy from the glass dish on the coffee table. “Because that is when Juliana has to race in the finals for the Olympics,” I said, quite casually, before popping the candy into my mouth.

The whole room burst into laughter & Juliana’s face turned a shade of red that would not have colour-coordinated well with her scales.

Christmas Day was made even better when Amy invited Juliana & her adoptive parents for the dinner part. The adult’s discussion was quite dull (Juliana’s Mom: “With Juliana only coming to stay with us for three months at a time, we’ve begun the process to adopt another child... no, not like her... this is a little 5 year old girl from India. We’ve been told that her name is Jasmine...”). I turned my attention to Juliana’s beaming face.

“You’re gonna love the oceans, Hannah. I just wish we could have worked some with you in your tail, even if it was only for short time. Ah, well... what is the first thing you are going to do once in the ocean?” I used the mouthful of turkey & mashed potatoes to give me time to think. When I swallowed, I replied, “Hug my birth mother for the first time in 20 years.” When Juliana “awed” me, Mel choked down a laugh in her glass of milk. After Mel stopped coughing, she managed to say, “If it were me, I’d be demanding to know why no one came looking for me.” Juliana stopped in surprise. “Well, they do – eventually – often sending an uncle or brother but not until the 25th birthday, if they haven’t been heard from up to that point. My finding Hannah was completely accidental & coincidence.” Setting my fork & knife on the plate, I patted Juliana on the shoulder. “I’m glad that you came when you did. I don’t know if I could have gotten over the gills – and then the vision-thing on my own. Although, I’ve got to admit, I DO NOT miss my glasses at all!” All three of us burst out in a nasty fit of laughter; it left us in hiccups, our faces very red & even Juliana in tears.

[[[Most of my presents consisted of gift certificates for many of my favourite stores at the mall, where I work and get the 15% employee discount in every store. For the most part, I had planned to buy a variety of tops: tube, tank, bikini, and couple of t-shirts; a mini skirt or two; try for pearl & sea shell-themed jewellery.

Juliana gave me this beautiful, water protected, wooden jewellery box as a gift. “Every mermaid needs a good box for her treasures,” said Juliana, as the gorgeous box’s beauty had left me speechless. All I could do was to give her a huge hug. Melody’s gift took the case for me: a length of pearls with a scallop sea shell locket; Mel’s picture on one side – Mom & Dad on the other – both had been air-tight sealed, yet were bright and clear, you could not tell. I held that locket – I hugged Melody – I even cried; I am so loved in this family!]]]

New Years Eve, Chris invited all of his students, past & present to a special swimsuit-costume pool party: the swimsuit had to be the main of the costume. For example, Melody went as a witch: she wore a black one-piece with a knee-length black mini skirt made of the mesh wraps, borrowed my black high heels (I gave those to her after that night), a store bought hat and merely painted her fingernails black.

Some came as pirates, some as shipwreck survivors, some as not-so-gruesome zombies, and others were more creative (Danu got a grey-blue one piece & sewed a piece of craft foam – made to look like a dorsal fin – to the suit’s back and by using a grey-blue painted monofin, she was a dolphin).

Juliana & I raised the bar beyond anything Danu could do: Juliana & I were going to attempt to go full mermaid, or at least as close as we could be. Juliana had already done it once for me prior to the party but I still felt like I was being held back.

~

The morning of the party, I woke with jellyfish (“butterflies”) in my stomach. Juliana was still asleep on the cot to my bed’s right while Danu still snored on my day lounger (Danu won the coin toss).

Silently, I sat up in bed & drawing my legs, I laid my head on my knees. Peaking out my curtains, I could see the mechanical maple tree outside, it’s false leaves gently swayed on their wires as the cool man-made oxygen air was being released. My window, being open, let this clean, fresh air drift into the room.

I breathed in deeply as I leaned back onto my pillows. My iPod alarm-base told me that it was only 3:47am.

I am back on the beach, but this time, I am very alone. I am wearing my costume for the party: plastic sea shell bra, the bottoms of my purple two-piece and the brand new ankle-length swim wrap skirt (slightly lighter purple) and already on me is a purple painted monofin. I look exactly as I had hoped to; I sit up to admire myself.

I go to remove the monofin but something does not feel right. My fingertips are within millimetres of touching the monofin when the wrap skirt begins to meld itself to my legs. I can only watch in shock as the skirt goes from mesh to solid, then taking on the appearance of fish scales, finishing off the flukes and stopping an inch shy of my belly button, going around the hips.

Even though I am a gorgeous creature – a mutant unlike anything even they could imagine – I know that I have to get into the water, fast.

I begun to crawl towards the water and at first, it does not appear to be too far but as I crawl, the distance somehow stays the same. I felt like I had already more than doubled the distance but around me was like I hadn’t moved at all.

I laid down on the sand in pure exhaustion but as I turned to my left side, I collided with my bedroom wall & woke immediately.

I woke with a start as my arm first made contact with the wall, preventing me from a full body collision. All I could say was “Ow!” as I rolled over to my right side, holding my left elbow. After the pain subsided from my arm, I was able to piece together my dream. Yet again, somehow my blankets had managed to be tangled – more like wrapped – around me.

Juliana & Danu were not only up but already partly dressed as they came over to help. Juliana got the first one off but as Danu helped to peel off the second, she let out a high-pitched scream, which she promptly covered with her hands. I did not blame her: everything from my waist (just below the belly button) to my ankles was covered in the beautiful purple fish scales. Even then, I could see it disappearing but Juliana was ecstatic and Danu was still terrified. I felt so terrible for Danu and so embarrassed for her.

There was no time to explain; just as the last flakes vanished, Mom burst into the room to inform us that the party was to start at 10am and that it was already 9:08am.

For the next hour, Juliana kept smiling at me while Danu refused to make eye contact.

Although Danu’s costume was impressive, Juliana & I out-shone everyone with our special renditions of our true selves, although that is not what we wanted people to believe.

Of course, I feared that as soon as I hit the water, I would change as Juliana did. But as I sank, only my gills & the fish scales appeared. The effect with my wrap skirt & the borrowed black monofin, my being 10ft down would have fooled anyone.

Juliana & I were doing a great job of stealing Danu’s spotlight. She won the “Most Creative” but Juliana & I shared “Most Original” in the contests. The bulk of our costumes (my wrap skirt, Melody’s hat, etc.) were abandoned on the sidelines shortly after that ended.

After a good, hearty lunch (& waiting the half hour – filled with games) the younger students headed for the deep & older students took to the ocean deep, so that they could train for a while. I had long since refused to race for the Olympics but I would race that day, at Juliana’s request for better competition.

I had found that Juliana was very passive in her swimming style. I had to get her swimming a little more aggressive. I solved this by swimming directly below & slightly behind of her and start yelling “back-seat driver” stuff: *Hurry it up! They are gaining on you...*| *Are you a sea slug or what?* | *Do you want to disappoint your mermaid family – Aunt Maggie, [Adoptive] Mom & Dad, Chris, me – or yourself?* | *Damn it, Jules! Move your scales!*| *Imagine that a male tiger shark is chasing you!*

That last one did the trick; Juliana booted into 3rd gear, overtaking me by three body-lengths until I could catch up to her. When I reached Juliana, she was hanging onto the ladder’s rungs; we both started laughing. “That totally works for me. How did you know?” Juliana asked when she caught her breath. “National Geographic & Discovery channels are very educational,” I replied.

As I climbed up onto the platform, and Juliana splashed water at me, I noticed Danu off in the medium section – all by herself.

Juliana saw me looking at Danu’s direction, & nodded at me to go talk to her. Juliana disappeared under the surface with a splash as I swam beneath the divider platform into the deep, followed along on the bottom of the pool, and under the next divider. Danu must have seen me coming because by the time I got there, Danu was already out of the pool.

I got out & quickly started following her.

I had finally caught up with Danu when I entered the change room. She was already changed out of her swimsuit - wrapped it in her towel, stuffing it into her duffle bag along with the pieces of her costume - and was throwing on her jean jacket as I came in. The look on Danu’s face told me that I was the last person she wanted to see at that time.

“Go back to your freakish friend, Hannah. Leave me alone,” she said, with the obvious sound of sobs in her voice.

She tried to turn & leave but I got around her and blocked her way. “No, Danu. I’ve had enough with your cold shoulder. We are going to talk about this right now.” I gave her my ‘Look’ that told her I meant business.

Danu rolled her eyes; sighed, dropped the duffle bag & then she slumped onto the nearest bench.

I sat down, across from her, my elbows rested on my knees, and hands clapped loosely. By spreading my fingers ever so little, I could still see a few tiny pale scales that had not vanished.

I looked down to see the same on my legs; few patches of scales, none any smaller than a 2 £ Euro coin or bigger than a 5 £ bill.

This made me a little more than scared because by now, I was plenty dry and they all should have gone.

I sighed out loud as I realized the truth.

“This is who & what I am, Danu. I am a true born mermaid. I go home in less than six days to meet with my real parents. I don’t want to be gone for a whole month with this on my mind,” I said, very solemnly.

Danu did not appear convinced. On the contrary, she acted bored & disinterested.

I got up & started pacing the room; each time my foot landed in a puddle, flashes of scales would appear on my legs. This made Danu shirk a little so I’d do it on purpose.

Finally, I got fed up with her & her stubbornness. I grabbed her by the wrist, forcefully dragged her to the showers and turned the showerhead on myself. Danu was too scared to move any further than a few inches, to get out of the showerhead’s range.

We both watched as the water made my legs to be covered in scale but no further. “Look at me, Danu. This is where I am stuck because your hatred is so strong. I can’t go to sea like this. The magic would go all wrong, I’d be stuck between worlds and not be able to fix it. Is that what you want for me?” I had been yelling at the top of my lungs but no one came in.

Danu was overcome by a feeling or moment of clarity because she used her hand to hide her face as she began to cry. “Oh Ariel, I am so sorry. I never realized that my jealousy was holding you back. I’ve always thought you as the older sister I never had. I have no desire to get in your way. Can you ever forgive me?”

I felt my face soften into a smile. “Of course, Danu, I can forgive you. Can you forgive me, for not confiding in sooner?”

I went to hug Danu but she squirmed ever so slightly. “Come on; it’s not like mermaid genes are contagious,” I said laughing as Danu nods in agreement and we go to hug.

Suddenly, as I step through a puddle on the floor, something happens to cause me to trip and land into Danu’s arms.

Although surprised, she manages to hold on to me & slowly flips me over so now, I can see that my legs have fused to form my mermaid’s tail, complete for the first time. She carefully lowered me to the floor and steps to the side just as Juliana, Mel, Mom, Dad, & Chris enter the change room (them having come looking for me).

Danu knelt down beside me, without fear, and would not budge. Juliana gave a squeal of delight as she knelt next to me, talking about stuff I was only half listening to. Instead, I kept looking up at Chris, Mel & them. When Juliana finally stopped talking, I said, “Now do you see why I must go for a while?”

Mel, Mom & Dad slowly nodded their heads; Chris looked like he might faint and he probably would have if it weren’t for my Dad’s quick thinking, directing him to a nearby bench.

When Chris finally spoke, it came out in a squeak of a whisper, “My prized swimmer student is a mermaid?!” I looked from Danu to Juliana to my tail - which was still wet from the shower - to Chris. “Yeah; kinda looks that way, huh?” I said with a laugh. “Let’s not forget, your up-and-coming Olympic medallist, Juliana. The tabloids would just love to know her story... Isn’t that true, cousin?” I proceeded to splash a puddle of water at Juliana, making her transform right there.

Chris jumped up in shock as Juliana’s tail “finished” forming. I knew that look and was surprised myself. “You did not even tell your own trainer about that? Geez Jules; you & I are the poster girls for people with trust issues!”

I realized that the mermaid part was taking over a little too much. I scooted myself back a bit, away from the wet of the shower and Mel handed to me a towel. Even as I dried my hair & upper half, the lower half began to disappear. Soon I had my slightly scale-covered legs & feet again.

Even though Jules & I were human again, Chris still appeared distressed. I climbed up onto a nearby bench & sat sideways, my feet tucked up beneath me. “Tell me what’s bothering you Chris,” I said in a tease way.

Chris looked at me and, without blink or smirk, he said, “The Olympic trials got moved forward a bit... to January 5th at 10 am.”

~~~

This dream was unlike any other I had before.

Firstly, I was not at my beach; I was in the Ocean Deep of the Sports Complex.

Secondly, although Jules is there, she is in human form - not wearing her bracelet - while I am in my tail - with my bracelet on.

*Is that how this will work? If we keep off our bracelets, you can still compete?* I asked.

Jules smiled as she nodded ‘yes’ & put on her bracelet. Her tail formed instantly.

*We must be careful; the call of the sea will be very strong and we must resist. You’d better wake up now, before anyone else does.* Jules’ words confused me but before I could argue, I woke to find myself in a half-full bath tub, in my tail.

~

I had somehow managed to get myself out of the tub, dried off, back to human form & to my room before anyone could barge in on me. If Mel or Amy were to walk in on me now, it would only look as if I had taken a shower; my hair, still damp & drying quickly.

Furthermore, when I removed my pyjama top, I discovered a beautiful new necklace: multiple brown strings with six tiny silver beads & a very pretty 3-inch-long sea shell pendant. I had a gut feeling that told me that this was a birthday present from my parents.

I sat at my desk, and pulling out my paper-notebook, I started writing down the dream - including the part where I woke up, finding myself in the bathtub with no memories on how I got there and of my necklace discovery.

The day that I had woken to was January 5th and it was only 7:45 am, according to my iPod alarm stand.

~~~

“On your marks... Get set... GO!” yelled the official. I was on my feet in seconds of the old-fashioned sound gun going off.

“Go, Juliana, go!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Being so close to the water was part of the reason for my heart racing.

Juliana just had to place!

“Come on, cousin; just like we practiced. Male Tiger Shark at 6 o’clock and he looks pissed.” Just as these words came in my head, Juliana flipped over at the wall & booted to close the gap.

~

Sadly, Jules did not win gold; she won silver!

I was still on my feet, jumping for joy with Mel & Danu on either side of me.

Juliana received her silver medal and took her victory walk with the others. Her coin bracelet was back on her wrist now that she was totally dry and she waved at me when she came by us.

Her race was the only one so even before the swimmers finished their walk, people started filing out.

Juliana was in the middle of the divider platform when I lost total control.

I vaulted the crowd-control fence, ditched my shoes & purse somewhere between, and amidst hollers & screams, I plunged head first into the Oceans Deep.

The call of the ocean was stronger than anything I could ever imagine. So strong that it made me feel weak just to fight it. Now that I was back in the water, I got back my strength within seconds of my plunge.

I was so mortified; I bolted for the bottom of the pool - as deep as I could go - just underneath the diving boards.

I shut my eyes & began to cry out of embarrassment and shame. I was crying so loudly that I had not noticed that I was no longer alone.

A gentle hand placed itself on my arm & I looked up into the smiling face of Juliana - who was still wearing her coin bracelet and back in mermaid form. That sight made me want to cry again but she took my hands.

“It’s alright, Hannah. The call of the ocean is quite strong. It takes months to learn and your mother can help. Now, how about you & me go up there to give them something else to talk about, ok?” Jules asked with a playful wink.

My frisky self understood immediately and my face lit up in a smile as I took Juliana’s hand. We used the power of both tails to take us to the surface, performing leaps and jumps for the awe-struck crowd.

Melody, Chris, Danu, Amy & Trevor were all in the front row laughing, cheering & applauding.

THE END